If you sport a healthy dark sense of humour and don’t easily take offence in ancient traditions that misalign with the contemporary, you should adore this play.
There is a common theme across many of these earlier of Shakespeare’s comedies. First, the Italian setting. Second, the increased presence of rhymed verse. Third, the identify transformation plot device that’s said to have seen abundant use in the Italian comic tradition.
Many of those earlier comedies employ the device, but this play elevates it to yet another level. Identities come to transform physically as characters impersonate other roles, as well as figuratively, in the course of the philosophical progressions the characters undergo. However, the clarity laid out in the staging directions and cast list makes the phenomenon easy to follow.
One need also bear in mind, and I don’t emphasize this enough, that most of these comedies, or even Shakespeare’s more tragic works, significantly appeal to farce, satire, if not plain parody. The particularities of the events described are not to be construed in full seriousness.
Behind the silliness actually lurks a social message, whence it makes sense to seek any sort of meaning. Otherwise, the prospect of enjoying such plays as The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Pericles, or The Comedy of Errors would lend to near impossibility. Alternatively, feel free to disregard both the plausibility and the social message, and simply appreciate the rhetoric. Both ways lead to rewarding pursuit.
This play also features a unique induction feature I haven’t encountered in the bard’s others. Preceding the formal opening act is a mini two-scene play that not only manages to already accommodate the identity-transformation device abundant in the ensuing performance, but, if you ask me, could easily comprise an independent work.
In the mini play, a visiting troupe of actors comes to stage the main feature I’ll briefly address. Midsummer Night’s Dream also yields to the technique of a play within a play featuring a troupe of performers, although there the plots are more interwoven.
The theme of Taming of the Shrew: the challenging of the concept of a woman’s obedient role in marital society.
A woman that didn’t openly conform to her societal role as a wife, a daughter, or a bacheloress, was often considered a ‘shrew’. A societal outcast. That is to say, rebellious or feminist types fit the role wonderfully.
Based on background research, the punishments for such misbehaving women were rarely fatal, but often demeaning and subject to severe emotional as well as even moderate physical abuse. It was not unheard of and even understandable for husbands to abuse their shrewish wives; to ‘tame the shrew’.
Contrary to modern society, the taming device was viewed not as torture or abuse, but an expected measure, almost essential in rendering the woman ‘appropriate’.
I researched some foreign translations of the title, already skeptical that such a peculiar and colloquial understanding as ‘taming of a shrew’ could produce a deserving translation. As often the case, I came upon the following abominable varieties: ‘Укроще́ние стропти́вой’ in Russian, ‘La fierecilla domada’/‘La doma de la bravía’ in Spanish, ‘A Megera Domada’ in Brazilian Portuguese.
Anyway. It suffices to say that there is a shrew in the play. And the shrew undergoes quiet a bit of taming. She is one of the two sisters, who, contrary to the other, scorns at the idea of marriage and courting.
Early on, I was taken aback by the taunting she undergoes from her very father. He even encourages other courtiers (suitors) in the deed. Albeit with a certain playfulness, she’s treated as a very personification of the devil.
But the play relates the shrew’s journey in such a witty and entertaining fashion that even a contemporary feminist shouldn’t feel too resentful. It’s all quiet entertaining and downright hilarious.
Thus have I politicly begun my reign,
And ’tis my hope to end successfully.
My falcon now is sharp and passing empty.
And till she stoop she must not be full-gorg’d,
For then she never looks upon her lure.
Another way I have to man my haggard,
To make her come, and know her keeper’s call,
That is, to watch her, as we watch these kites
That bate and beat, and will not be obedient.
She eat no meat today, nor none shall eat;
Last night she slept not, nor tonight she shall not;
As with the meat, some undeserved fault
I’ll find about the making of the bed;
And here I’ll fling the pillow, there the bolster,
This way the coverlet, another way the sheets;
Ay, and amid this hurly I intend
That all is done in reverend care of her;
And, in conclusion, she shall watch all night:
And if she chance to nod I’ll rail and brawl,
And with the clamour keep her still awake.
This is a way to kill a wife with kindness;
And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour.
He that knows better how to tame a shrew,
Now let him speak; ’tis charity to show.
Questions, comments? Connect.